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Here’s how China spies on the US

The surveillance balloon that floated across the US before being shot down by an Air Force F-22 fighter allegedly marked the latest — and most brazen — effort by China to spy on the US.

There have been scores of recent incidents in which Beijing has used a wide variety of methods to obtain intelligence, as well as military and commercial technology, from the US.

In 2021, the Center for Strategic & International Studies think tank in Washington, DC, compiled a list of 160 incidents of Chinese espionage directed at the US since 2000.

The survey showed that nefarious activity by Beijing appeared to be on the rise, with 24% occurring from 2000 through 2009 and 76% from 2010 through 2021.

The CSIS noted that its list was derived from open-source material and likely didn’t comprise the actual total number of incidents.

“It is perhaps noteworthy that of the 160 reported incidents we found, 89 occurred after [Chinese President] Xi Jinping took power,” it added.

Here are some of the ways that China has been accused of infiltrating the US:

Hacking

In 2020, the US Justice Department charged five Chinese nationals with hacking into the computer networks of more than 100 companies in the US and elsewhere.

The hackers, who were believed to remain at large in China, were described as part of “Advanced Persistent Threat 41,” a cyber-attack group that operates with the blessing of the Chinese Communist Party.

The Chinese spy balloon that flew over the United States before getting shot down by an F-22 fighter.
Brian Branch via AP

Two years earlier, Chinese hackers were accused of stealing secret plans for a supersonic anti-ship missile being developed for the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport, RI.

Chinese hackers have also been accused of stealing plans for America’s F-35 stealth fighter, based on documents leaked by rogue US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden in 2015.

Both the Pentagon and jet builder Lockheed Martin Corp. said at the time that no classified information was lost during the breach.

Satellites

As of May 2018, China had more than 120 satellites orbiting the globe to conduct reconnaissance and remote sensing for military, civil and commercial purposes, according to an unclassified 2019 Air Force report.

The People’s Liberation Army reportedly owned and operated “half of these systems, most of which could support monitoring, tracking and targeting of US forces,” the report said.

“These satellites also allow the PLA to maintain situational awareness of China’s regional rivals (e.g., India and Japan) and potential regional flashpoints (e.g., Korea, Taiwan, and the East and South China Seas),” the report added.


A Chinese rocket carrying a satellites taking off on January 13, 2023.
A Chinese rocket carrying a satellite taking off on January 13, 2023.
Photo by CHINE NOUVELLE/SIPA/Shutterstock

The US Defense Intelligence Agency also released a contemporaneous report that said China was developing “more sophisticated satellite operations” with “dual-use technologies” to take out other eyes in the sky.

“China continues to develop a variety of counterspace capabilities designed to limit or prevent an adversary’s use of space-based assets during crisis or conflict,” the DIA report said.

China is also willing to acquire technology “by any means available,” putting its military “on the verge of fielding some of the most modern weapon systems in the world,” the DIA warned at the time.

“In some areas, it already leads the world,” the agency added.

Secret agents

In 2020, then-US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo exclusively told The Post that the Chinese Consulate in Manhattan was being used as a major hub of Beijing’s espionage program.

“They’re engaged in activities where they’re crossing the line from normal diplomacy to the kinds of things that would be more akin to what spies are doing,” he said at the time.

Pompeo’s remarks came about two months after the US government forced China to shutter its consulate in Houston in response to the alleged thefts of American intellectual property that were “costing hundred of thousands of jobs.”


Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed the Chinese Consulate building in Manhattan is used as a hub for espionage.
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed the Chinese Consulate building in Manhattan is used as a hub for espionage.
Robert Miller

Former CIA Chief of Counterintelligence James Olson has also said that more than 100 Chinese spies were operating in the Big Apple at any given time.

“Their spy program is massive,” Olson told The Post in 2020. “They aggressively mine social media and look for Chinese-Americans who have affection for Mother China.”

Olson said China’s recruitment pitch included convincing potential turncoats “that what they are doing will not be harmful to US interests — even though, of course, it is.

“China has multiple spies working on a particular project,” he said. “So [an agent] may be getting small pieces of information, which seem inconsequential but are part of a larger plan.”

‘Honeypot’ traps

A blockbuster 2020 investigation by Axios revealed that a suspected Chinese spy named Fang Fang cozied up to local and national politicians across the country, including US Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.)

Fang, also known as “Christine Fang,” was a Swalwell fundraiser who also helped place at least one intern in his office, Axios said.


Rep. Eric Swalwell with suspected Chinese spy Fang Fang.
Rep. Eric Swalwell with suspected Chinese spy Fang Fang.
Facebook

Swalwell was recently booted from the House Intelligence Committee, along with fellow California Democrat Adam Schiff, by new House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.)

The modern-day Mata Hari also had sexual or romantic relationships with at least two mayors of Midwestern cities, including a sexual encounter with an Ohio mayor inside a car that was under FBI surveillance at the time, Axios said.

Law enforcement

Along with US military and counterintelligence personnel, members of American law enforcement are among China’s most sought-after undercover assets, Olson said.

In 2011, veteran FBI electronics technician Kun Shan “Joey” Chun, a naturalized US citizen, was traveling in Europe when he met a man who identified himself as a Chinese government official.

In exchange for lavish trips and cash for his family, Chun passed along “the identity and travel patterns of an FBI special agent” — as well as the organizational chart of the bureau’s New York Field Office and photos of documents he shot with his cellphone.

Chun, who was snared in a 2015 sting operation, pleaded guilty to acting as an unregistered foreign agent and was sentenced to two years in prison after tearfully saying, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry to the FBI.”

Even more stunning was the 2020 arrest of NYPD cop and Army reservist Baimadajie Angwang on charges he spied on fellow Tibetan-Americans and passed along information to a handler stationed in Manhattan’s Chinese Consulate.

At the time, FBI New York Assistant Director in Charge William Sweeney called Angwang “the definition of an insider threat.”

But federal prosecutors unexpectedly dropped the case last month, citing unspecified “additional information bearing on the charges,” The Post exclusively reported at the time.


NYPD officer Baimadajie Angwang was accused of spying on Tibetan-Americans before federal prosecutors dropped the case.
NYPD officer Baimadajie Angwang was accused of spying on Tibetan-Americans before federal prosecutors dropped the case.
AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews

Angwang, who consistently maintained his innocence, blamed his arrest on anti-Asian prejudice and overzealous prosecutors, telling CBS New York last week, “I think they knew I’m not the guy.”

Meanwhile, former NYPD sergeant-turned-private detective Michael McMahon is awaiting trial for allegedly helping track down Chinese nationals living in the US as part of China’s “Operation Fox Hunt” forced-repatriation program.

Academia

A NASA researcher and professor at Texas A&M University, Zhengdong Cheng, was busted in 2020 on charges he accepted up to $750,000 in federal grant money while hiding his affiliation with China’s government-run Guangdong University of Technology.

The FBI also accused him of taking part in Beijing’s “Hundred Talents Plan” to recruit American university professors to steal intellectual property for China.

Cheng struck a plea deal in September and was sentenced to 13 months already spent in jail, along with agreeing to pay $86,876 in restitution and a $20,000 fine.

China has also been accused of infiltrating American colleges and universities through its “Confucius Institute” program to teach Chinese language, history and culture.

In 2020, the US State Department designated the Confucius Institute US Center as a foreign mission of the People’s Republic of China.

“Confucius Institutes are funded by the PRC and part of the Chinese Communist Party’s global influence and propaganda apparatus,” Pompeo said at the time.

The Washington Free Beacon later reported that Columbia University accepted $1 million to establish a Confucius Institute at the Ive League school in Upper Manhattan.

A Columbia spokesperson said at the time, “The university’s disclosure of funding from foreign sources fully complies with federal requirements for reporting donations.”

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